Sound of Freedom review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
In the realm of movies about child trafficking, Sound of Freedom is the lesser picture of the topic. This goes beyond the bland cliches of a crime thriller and standard embellishments of the true story to appear more exciting. It’s that its central subject and the creatives behind this project are deep into right-wing conspiracy theory camp that it’s easy enough to see why this film had been shelved since 2018. Even if trying to divorce from the resume of those involved, it’s still just a tired attempt at fear-mongering, which is why there’s no surprise the considerable defense of this film has been, “What? So you’re FOR child trafficking?” That tactic is part of the QAnon conspiracy movement, which the film’s hero soon started buying into.
This thriller centers around the “true story” of Tim Ballard, played by Jim “Passion of the Christ” Caviezel, an actor who has been relevant for many years for reasons that will become clear shortly. Tim worked as a Special Agent for Homeland Security Investigations but was tired of the bureaucracy that wasn’t doing enough to stop child traffickers. He quit his job and soon formed an organization known as Operation Underground Railroad. The group gathers intel and builds up sting operations that fight for children's freedom. Tim’s drive seems to come from how he wouldn’t want this to happen to his kids. His kids, by the way, are only present for one scene with no dialogue. His wife only has one conversation, and it’s the bog-standard “I believe in you” speech.
The film is bizarre in how it depicts the horrors of sex trafficking and the vigilance that Tim employs. At one point, Tim gets some info on traffickers from an arrested pedophile he speaks with while pretending to be a pedophile to get on his good side. As if it weren’t confusing enough how this arrested guy got out of prison or why Tim tries to go undercover as a pedophile to extract info, the scene ends with the cops bursting in, beating the pedophile and arresting him (again, I suppose?). I’d try to find some logic here, but that’s not what the right-wing crowd has come for with this film. They want to watch pedophiles get punched, Tim rescue some children and have heartfelt messages about how this story is accurate and that you need to spread the word.
One of the film’s most prominent lines is “God’s children are not for sale.” Perhaps this inclusion convinced Angel Studios, the last studio that would distribute the film, to push this into theaters. While God’s children might not be for sale, their plight seems to be. Consider that the film ends with a QR code to “spread the word.” The code, however, does not take the viewer to resources for combatting child trafficking. It instead takes you to a website where you can buy more tickets. But why wouldn’t the film be directed toward existing resources?
Perhaps because actual organizations wouldn’t have anything all that nice to say about Tim Ballard or O.U.R. Although the film depicts Tim as an expert infiltrator and hero for rescuing children, his involvement in the sting operation was very little. Also, O.U.R. has been intensely criticized for everything from poor intel to ineffective sting operations to not providing care for rescued children, several of which ended right back on the street. They’re less like a band of child rescuers and more like a batch of amateurs playing Batman in Latin American countries without any oversight.
Tim Ballard and Jim Caviezel have boughten heavily into the QAnon conspiracy movement as if all that wasn't enough. Tim has promoted the Wayfair conspiracy in which he believed enslaved children were being hidden in an online retailer's sold furniture, a claim that was proven false. Caviezel attended a QAnon conference in 2021, where he promoted the film and talked about the fuzzy adrenochrome harvesting conspiracy. Although the distributor Angel Studios doesn’t openly buy into QAnon, they have no problem employing right-wing recluses like Connor Boyack and Doug TenNapel.
Sound of Freedom’s only central defense for its massive embellishments and ho-hum filmmaking is that it’s about an important topic, and those criticizing the film just don’t want to discuss child trafficking. Plenty of movies touch on this topic (You Were Never Really Here, Traffik, Stopping Traffic) far better than this propagandist garbage, meant more to boil your blood than do anything meaningful about it. Let that ending sink in, which begs the audience to buy more tickets. This is not a call to action; it’s a grift disguised as a moral cause and dressed as dollar-store Taken.